Election Day is fast approaching, and the state of play for many of the highest-profile elections is beginning to truly materialize.
One set of elections that has truly started to settle are gubernatorial races, where we currently have four as Tossups and many more in the competitive “Leans” and “Likely” categories. This article ranks the 10 Gubernatorial offices that we feel are most likely to change parties.
#1: Maryland (R, Safe Democratic)
Just four years after becoming the first Republican to win re-election as Governor in Maryland since Theodore McKeldin in 1954, term-limited Larry Hogan remains one of the most popular governors in the country. This would have been a tough race for Republicans to hold even with preferred nominee Kelly Schulz, but instead they nominated state representative Dan Cox, an election denier running on a hard-right platform. As a result, this race is a near-automatic flip; the two polls conducted so far show Democrat Wes Moore with a commanding lead and Cox wallowing at around 30%.
#2: Massachusetts (R, Safe Democratic)
Wildly popular Republican incumbent Charlie Baker made the somewhat surprising decision to retire, which immediately set up this deeply blue state as one of the best Democratic pickup opportunities in the country. As expected, Trump-endorsed Geoff Diehl won his primary, effectively ending Republican hopes of putting up much of a fight here; Democratic nominee Maura Healey leads by over 25% in the FiveThirtyEight average.
#3: Kansas (D, Leans Republican)
Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly won a narrow victory in 2018 in this very red state in large part due to the unwise decision of Republicans to nominate Kris Kobach, a wildly unpopular and controversial figure in state politics. This time around, Kelly faces Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt – a much less polarizing figure.
As a result, Kansas is likely the best Republican pickup opportunity in the country. That being said, Kelly has a couple of things going for her that could keep her in this race: she has reasonably good approval ratings, and far-right state senator Dennis Pyle is inexplicably running as an independent. We think Schmidt is favored here, but a Kelly win is not out of the question by any means.
#4: Nevada (D, Tossup)
Incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, is hoping to win a second term in this purple state, but Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is putting up a strong fight. Of all the swing states up in 2022, Nevada might be the one Republicans are most confident about. Demographically, the state is a somewhat poor fit for the current Democratic coalition and has trended Republican in the last three Presidential elections. But its sizable Hispanic population might be the biggest problem for Democrats this time around.
Democrats are raising alarm bells over Hispanic turnout and voting patterns, concerned that they might either stay home or even vote for Republicans. Polls show a close race here; RealClearPolitics gives Lombardo an edge of 1.5%, while FiveThirtyEight has Sisolak up by 0.3%. At the moment, we feel Nevada is the most likely Tossup race to flip, but we’re not comfortable moving it just yet.
#5: Wisconsin (D, Tossup)
Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers has long been seen as among the most vulnerable in the country, and this has indeed turned out to be the case. Republican nominee Tim Michels – a businessman and political neophyte whose most recent experience in politics was an 11-point loss to Russ Feingold in the 2004 Senate race – won the primary over former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch in a mild upset, but this appears to have had little impact on the race.
Evers has reasonably decent approval ratings, but Wisconsin’s status as a Trump-Biden state and a decent national environment for Republicans keep this race as one of the more competitive in the country. The RealClearPolitics polling average gives Michels a 0.5% lead, while FiveThirtyEight gives Evers an advantage of 0.7%.
#6: Oregon (D, Tossup)
While some outlets and forecasters have been surprised at Oregon’s rise to Tossup status, its status as a highly-competitive race should be no surprise; we shifted this race back in July, well before other forecasters. On top of Oregon’s decades-long record of consistently competitive races, outgoing Democratic Governor Kate Brown has consistently ranked as the least-popular Governor in the country. Additionally, former state senator Betsy Johnson – a moderate-to-conservative Democrat in the legislature – is running as an independent candidate. She’s polling around 20%, an impressive showing for a third-party candidate.
So why isn’t Oregon ranked higher? Well, it’s still Oregon – this is a state where Republicans last won a gubernatorial race in 1982, and it’s still a solidly Democratic one federally. We also expect Johnson’s support to decrease as Election Day approaches, but it’s unclear which candidate will benefit. Right now, Republican Christine Drazan holds a narrow edge of 1.2% in the FiveThirtyEight average.
#7: Arizona (R, Tossup)
With incumbent Republican Doug Ducey term-limited, eyes have long been locked on Arizona as one of the better Democratic pickup opportunities this cycle. This Trump-Biden state has since locked itself into one of the least exciting races in the country, with both the Democratic and Republican nominees having critical flaws in their own way. As it stands right now, we regard Arizona as the Tossup state least likely to change hands.
Republican nominee Kari Lake, a former news anchor, isn’t a conventionally bad nominee – she’s well-spoken and can come off fairly competently in interviews. However, her extreme policy positions and consistent denial of the 2020 election raise serious red flags about how she would handle the 2024 election. Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs, on the other hand, is politically within the mainstream but is instead a conventionally poor candidate. Her tenure in office has been dogged by allegations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, which have tarnished her reputation. She has also refused to debate Lake – a baffling move, given how competitive the race is. RealClearPolitics gives Lake an edge of 1.8%, while FiveThirtyEight shows Hobbs up by 0.1%.
#8: New Mexico (D, Leans Democratic)
New Mexico’s gubernatorial race has fallen under the radar this cycle, but that might not be a bad thing for either candidate. Incumbent Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham has middling approval ratings and has had a somewhat tumultuous term as Governor; in 2021, she paid out $150,000 to settle a sexual assault claim filed by a former staffer, who alleged she poured a water bottle over his crotch and then grabbed it through his pants. However, Hobbs and the state’s Democratic lean give her a decent cushion.
Republican nominee Mark Ronchetti, a former weatherman, is no stranger to under-the-radar races; in 2020, he ran a remarkably strong Senate campaign, outrunning Donald Trump by 4.7% in a race few outlets saw as competitive. Like in 2020, polls aren’t quite pointing to an upset here; Lujan-Grisham leads by around seven percentage points on average. However, we wouldn’t be shocked if this narrows or if Ronchetti pulls off an upset.
#9: Maine (D, Leans Democratic)
Maine is one of the most politically unique states in the country, but 2022’s gubernatorial race isn’t set to be particularly exciting. Incumbent Democrat Janet Mills is fighting for a second term against former Governor Paul LePage, who twice won gubernatorial races in what could be described as mild miracles.
While LePage has pulled off two upset wins before, it doesn’t look like third time will be the charm. Mills is popular and has a strong coalition, including support from the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine, a pro-gun group that gives her an “A” rating – higher than LePage. Mills leads by an average of 8.2% in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
#10: Alaska (R, Likely Republican)
As the only “Likely” race to make our list, Alaska is an unusual contest. Governor Mike Dunleavy is reasonably popular, and polls show him beating both Democrat Les Gara and Independent ex-Governor Bill Walker in ranked-choice voting. However, the possibility of an upset isn’t out of the question here; the new ranked-choice voting system makes it difficult to say for certain.
We’d expect Dunleavy to have better odds of winning against Gara than Walker, but Dunleavy should be favored against both. Walker was the least popular Governor in the country by the end of his term and ended up dropping out of the 2018 election rather than contesting it for that reason. Dunleavy’s tenure hasn’t been without controversy, but he should be on reasonably sound footing for a second term.